Financial ties among industry, scientific investigators and academic institutions can influence research outcomes, Yale researchers have found in a comprehensive study of financial conflicts of interest in biomedical research.
"Our findings confirm that financial relationships among industry, investigators and academic institutions are pervasive," said Justin Bekelman, a fourth year student at Yale School of Medicine and lead author of the study published in the January 22/29 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association. "There is strong and consistent evidence that industry-sponsored research tends to yield pro-industry conclusions."
The team of Yale investigators performed a comprehensive review of 37 studies on the extent, impact and management of financial conflicts of interest in biomedical research. A subset of studies that examined over 1,140 original scientific papers revealed a significant association between industry sponsorship and pro-industry results. The authors concluded that the odds of industry-sponsored studies reaching pro-industry conclusions were 3.6 times that of non-industry-sponsored studies reaching pro-industry conclusions.
Bekelman said that industry support of biomedical research in the United States increased dramatically in the last two decades. Industry's share of total investment in biomedical research and development grew from approximately 32 percent in 1980 to 62 percent in 2000, while the federal government's share fell. Despite increasing awareness about the potential impact of financial conflicts of interest in biomedical research, no comprehensive synthesis of the evidence relating to financial conflicts had been performed.
"While the relationship between academic institutions and industry spawned medical advances and provided needed support for discovery, an entanglement of conflicts among industry, investors and academic institutions also emerged," said senior author Cary P. Gross, M.D., assistant professor of medicine at Yale School of Medicine.
The authors found that about one fourth of biomedical investigators at academic institutions receive research funding from industry and about two-thirds of academic institutions hold equity in start-ups that sponsor research performed at the same institutions.
The authors also found that current management of financial conflicts of interest is in a state of flux. There was substantial variability of policies governing conflicts of interest at academic institutions and peer-reviewed journals, and efforts to respond to these shortcomings have ranged from the prohibition of certain financial relationships to strict disclosure and monetary limits.
"We recommend that all investigators and sponsors undertaking human participant research should not only fully disclose the nature and extent of their relationships, but also make available all research results from completed clinical trials in a comprehensive, publicly accessible registry," said Gross.
Yan Li of the Department of Biostatistics at Yale, was also an author on the study.
Karen N. Peart